Procrastination … Why Accomplishing Things Becomes Difficult

I have had a pending deadline hanging over my head for about 2 months. A colleague and I are co-writing a proposal to present at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in November 2013. The deadline is January 11. And although I have known about this looming date and I have all the data I need to write the proposal, for some reason I cannot pull myself to sit down and do it. Right now, I am writing a post about procrastinating my proposal rather than actually writing it.

Procrastination. It’s a trait I cannot stand in myself and my students. I always felt like such a nag when I would impatiently tap my toes as I would watch students piss their time away on other crap during writer’s workshop. I’d think to myself, “Boy they are going to regret wasting their time.” I too am plagued for I will often claim that I’ve been consumed by other more pressing priorities rather than actually working on what I need to complete. It makes me wonder, how to be inspired (and inspire others) to get something done.

I googled “procrastination” and was pleasantly surprised to find a slew of self-help books on amazon.com on the very topic. Titles such as “The Procrastinators Handbook” or “The Now Habit” provide plenty of professional advice on what one should to do become more productive. You can scroll down to find books of all lengths to assist you in solving your sloth-like habits. However I must ask, if you are busy reading one of these books, aren’t you also not completing the task that you need  to finish?

I can’t help but think about my students and how procrastination almost disables many young writers. When thinking about revising and editing, many students will say, “I’ll do that later” only to find that they really just didn’t want to edit or revise in the first place. They become frustrated by the reality that sometimes the hardest tasks must be completed one way or another. Is this my problem as well? Do I just not want to write my proposal because it’s too hard? Often I consider helping students break down the challenging aspects of writing that they appear to be resistant towards. Like eating vegetables at dinner, the broccoli doesn’t seem so bad when eaten in small bites (and also covered in mashed potatoes). If editing for clarity and punctuation is the struggle with students, having writers take only a small paragraph in isolation to examine can help get their mental train moving in the right direction. This can also happen with revising or adding different craft elements (dialogue, character description, metaphors) for students to take smaller chunks to work with. It doesn’t have to happen all at once but at least allowing students to stretch their writing muscles can help them to it again in the future and therefore make the difficult task seem not as intimidating.

Of course its easier to occupy our minds and hands with other activities that require less thought and stress. This is what I have been doing for the past two months instead of completing my NCTE proposal. However, more anxiety is caused as you get closer to a deadline. Helping students break down the barrier of a task into more manageable steps is how we support self-proclaimed procrastinators. I must recognize that a task needs smaller steps and actually follow those steps. I am an expert at writing to-do lists that never get completed. But if I can make each task on my list small and tangible, it is more likely that I will complete what must be done.

And so, the proposal must be written. But maybe I’ll get to that tomorrow when I have more time. 🙂

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